Improving crop salt tolerance using transgenic approaches: An update and physiological analysis

Plant Cell Environ. 2020 Dec;43(12):2932-2956. doi: 10.1111/pce.13865. Epub 2020 Sep 15.


Salinization of land is likely to increase due to climate change with impact on agricultural production. Since most species used as crops are sensitive to salinity, improvement of salt tolerance is needed to maintain global food production. This review summarises successes and failures of transgenic approaches in improving salt tolerance in crop species. A conceptual model of coordinated physiological mechanisms in roots and shoots required for salt tolerance is presented. Transgenic plants overexpressing genes of key proteins contributing to Na+ 'exclusion' (PM-ATPases with SOS1 antiporter, and HKT1 transporter) and Na+ compartmentation in vacuoles (V-H+ ATPase and V-H+ PPase with NHX antiporter), as well as two proteins potentially involved in alleviating water deficit during salt stress (aquaporins and dehydrins), were evaluated. Of the 51 transformations, with gene(s) involved in Na+ 'exclusion' or Na+ vacuolar compartmentation that contained quantitative data on growth and include a non-saline control, 48 showed improvements in salt tolerance (less impact on plant mass) of transgenic plants, but with only two tested in field conditions. Of these 51 transformations, 26 involved crop species. Tissue ion concentrations were altered, but not always in the same way. Although glasshouse data are promising, field studies are required to assess crop salinity tolerance.

Keywords: HKT1; NHX; SOS1; plasma membrane ATPase; salt tolerance; salt ‘exclusion’; sodium vacuolar compartmentation; transgenic plants; vacuolar-H+ATPase; vacuolar-H+PPase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Crop Production / methods
  • Crops, Agricultural / genetics*
  • Crops, Agricultural / growth & development
  • Crops, Agricultural / physiology
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / genetics*
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / growth & development
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / physiology
  • Salt Tolerance / genetics
  • Salt Tolerance / physiology
  • Salt-Tolerant Plants / genetics*
  • Salt-Tolerant Plants / growth & development
  • Salt-Tolerant Plants / physiology